Anton du Beke interviewed by Kent Life

He's cheeky, he's charming and he does a mean cha-cha-cha. Sevenoaks boy Anton du Beke tells us all about his latest Strictly partner, Ann Widdecombe, playing golf in Kent and dancing with his all-time hero

Anton du Beke interviewed by Kent Life

He’s cheeky, he’s charming and he does a mean cha-cha-cha. Sevenoaks boy Anton du Beke tells us all about his latest Strictly partner, Ann Widdecombe, playing golf in Kent and dancing with his all-time hero

Despite having partnered some of the most challenging female celebrities on BBC1’s dance programme Strictly Come Dancing and never making it to a final, Anton du Beke has become one of the best loved, and indeed most famous, of the professional dancers on the show. 

With his effortless charm, timeless pose and wide grin, Anton, 44, has been delighting Strictly viewers since the show began in 2004. Strictly Come Dancing first brought Anton to public attention some eight years ago and he has appeared on every series since. 

He has also branched out to presenting with a daytime cookery show of his own, Step Up To The Plate; and the slightly weird entertainment show Hole In The Wall. Earlier this year he toured in his own dance show Steppin’ Out with his partner Erin Boag and they’ll be doing another tour next year with Let’s Face The Music.   

For this series of Strictly he has been paired with Ann Widdecombe, 63, recently retired Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald, who could be his biggest (if perhaps shortest-lived!) challenge to date.

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“Rehearsals are going wonderfully, actually,” he says with a chortle to himself.  “Ann is so nice; so lovely to spend time with. She is enormous fun. She has a very dry, wicked sense of humour which I think will work well with my own sense of humour.”

Ann and I are a funny old double act. It’s an ingenious partnership!

It has been said that Ann was ready to quit after the first two days of group dance rehearsals. So noisy, intense and fast was the teaching that she nearly resigned before even knowing who her professional dance partner was to be.

“Ann was thrown in at the deep end, without a doubt!  The loud, echoing studio full of 40 other chattering dancers and celebs was a rude awakening,” he admits.

Since then Ann has had private lessons with Anton on a one-to-one basis and she is making much better progress. “She’s come on leaps and bounds after a few sessions with me in the studio.  Learning at your own pace is vital. When you’re in a crazy, unfamiliar, group situation, you’re not learning at your own speed which makes it so hard. If the teaching is going too fast, you’ll never make progress.”

Anton is famous for his gentle, encouraging approach to his “girls” on the show who have included Lesley Garret, Kate Galloway, Patsy Palmer and Esther Rantzen.    

“My first thought is that I am trying to make this whole experience enjoyable for my girls. I am hoping that when they look back they will say, ‘I did that Strictly Come Dancing and I had a great time!’ That for me would be the ultimate compliment.

“I don’t want them to say, ‘I hated every minute!’ I would feel bad about that. I’d feel I hadn’t allowed them to enjoy the experience.”   

He explains why enjoying themselves is so important. “Going out and dancing in front of millions of people is nervewracking in itself: to have hated the run up to that (all those hours in the studios) would be such a shame. If you get an element of enjoyment out of it, that comes across in the performance. You might be quaking with fear as you go out on the night, but if you’ve enjoyed the studio work, and the rehearsals, then it does show.” Nervously he adds, “I hope!”

He says that he and Ann make quite a lovely, little couple! “We are a funny old double act. We are hoping that it will come across on the show. It is an ingenious partnership. This sort of thing keeps me going. It’s funny, it’s hysterical and I love the ridiculousness of it all. I think that it’s important to keep the fun alive”. 

Dancing is a contact sport. The very nature of the hold and the steps means Anton must get very close to his partners. How does he overcome any apprehensions his partner might have?

“You get over any embarrassment in about four seconds, otherwise you can’t dance.  There is no time for silliness.” he affirms, “I just give them a big hug before we start and we’re away!” 

One of Anton’s personal highlights of the Strictly shows has been dancing Me And My Shadow with Bruce Forsythe. 

“He was, and still is, one of my all-time heroes. They say never meet you hero, well I did and I danced with him and I loved it. We’ve also played a little golf too. He is the ultimate entertainer and a great fella!  I think he is absolutely wonderful.”

Anton grew up in Sevenoaks, with his Spanish mother (Ascension), Hungarian father (Antal) and his brother and sister Veronica and Stephen. He attended Wildernesse Boys School in Sevenoaks and was a junior boxer and played county football prior to dancing. 

“Sevenoaks is very much part of my being. When I go round the place I am always remembering how things used to look. The pedestrian area in the centre used to be a big bus station and there was no McDonald’s in my day! I used to spend so much time at the swimming baths: but the old baths, not the new ones.”

When he was younger, he worked in a local restaurant, Le Chanteclair, in his spare time. “It’s not there now, but I was a washer-upperer. My father was a waiter there too when he first came to Sevenoaks in the 1960s.”

Today, he is in Kent less, but his favourite places include the Rendezvous Restaurant in Westerham for great French food, “the lovely” Knole House and, of course, the best place in the county: Nizels Golf Club in Hildenborough. 

“I love playing golf.  Getting out on a nice day and playing a round is just brilliant: especially in the middle of the week. It always seems a bit naughty midweek to be strolling the greens and breathing in all that fresh air. The golf course is a beautiful place to be: countryside, clean air, nice views, a bit of gentle exercise. Perfect!”

Anton first became attracted to ballroom dancing, when went to collect his sister from her dance class one evening.  He was 14 and was rather taken aback by all the pretty girls gathered in one place!

“I walked into a room full of lovely girls and thought well, this looks rather good!  So, I signed up and the rest is history!” he rubs his hands in glee.

His mother knew he was serious about dancing when he told her he needed to stop playing football to protect his knees.  “Pretentious little sod, wasn’t I!” he adds, with a huge laugh. 

Anton performed in competitions and at 17 chose to specialise in ballroom. His day job was selling beds in a showroom in Petts Wood. “I was quite good at selling beds; I just kept talking!” he laughs. He would then practice dance in the evenings.

In 1997, he teamed up with Erin Boag and together they have competed all over the world. In 2003 they won the IDTA (International Dance Teachers' Association) Classic.Both have appeared in every series of Strictly.

His favourite Latin dance is a raunchy rumba because he says it’s a strong dance and one full of character. When it comes to ballroom it’s the foxtrot, and particularly the slow foxtrot, that he says is his favourite. 

Whether we will ever see him dance a foxtrot or a rumba with Ann Widdecombe remains to be seen. One thing is certain, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Anton. With his positive attitude, charming manners and that huge infectious laugh, that can only be a good thing!


Strictly Come Dancing, Saturdays evenings on BBC1

22 Jan 2011, 3pm: Anton and Erin in Puttin' On The Ritz, Barbican Centre, London EC2Y 8DS, tel: 020 7638 8891